Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Problem of Pain

When I consider my crosses, tribulations, and temptations, I shame myself almost to death thinking of what they are in comparison to the sufferings of my blessed Savior, Jesus Christ. (Martin Luther)
Martin Luther is a towering figure of both secular and sacred history. And while the “crosses, tribulations, and temptations” of which he speaks are no doubt unique to his own person and particular calling; each and every Christian, of necessity, must endure their own crosses, tribulations, and temptations. Are we not individually called by our Lord, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Mtt 16:24)?

Sadly, many Christians falter in their faith during tribulations because they’ve been duped by the unbiblical, false doctrine of the “prosperity” heretics. These are false brethren who insist that God wants nothing more than to make us happy, healthy, and wealthy. But in the Bible we are not promised a life of ease here and now. Quite the opposite: “In the world you will have tribulation…” (John 16:33).

When we consider the clear teaching of scripture, in both word and example, we find that people of faith are inevitably tried and tested. Thus, though we may naturally wonder why we are faced with seasons of sorrow, we needn’t falter or lose heart.
Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings…(1Peter 4:12-13a).
Unlike false world religions and cults, Christianity unflinchingly acknowledges or faces the problem of pain. Biblical faith does not deny the reality of suffering [treating it as merely illusory] as does Christian Science. It does not ignore or pretend to “speak away” suffering as does the “Word of Faith” movement. Nor does it seek to escape suffering through mental discipline, as does Buddhism. Instead, in no uncertain terms, Christianity addresses and understands suffering through the lens, if you will, of the Cross of Jesus Christ. The corrective lens of Christ brings our personal fragmentation sharply into focus.

Like Luther, the Christian may readily acknowledge his “crosses, tribulations, and temptations.” But rather than drown ourselves in a sea of self referential anguish, we must also, like Luther, look to the Author and Finisher of our faith. Luther, when tested, followed the admonition of God’s word.
Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls. (Heb 12:2-3)
Notice, the author of Hebrews gives a reason for looking to Christ and considering Him when we are experiencing difficulty: “lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls.” It is when we give into the natural inclination to become self absorbed in our pain, that we are most susceptible to weariness and discouragement. But when we look to Christ and consider His vicarious suffering, we find in Him the necessary strength and encouragement to persevere.

Though we may be afflicted and heavy of heart, as we look to the Christ of scripture, we are borne of the Spirit. How can this be? How is the suffering soul succored by the Spirit? The answer is in Christ’s sufferings for us. “He is despised and rejected by men, A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief…Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Isaiah 53:3-4).

Christ has already borne our grief and carried our sorrow and thus the Spirit aids us in all adversity. When our heart is overwhelmed, we must hear the word of the Lord: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you” (Isaiah 43:2).

As we are tried and tested, we must not only look to the sufferings of Christ, but we must also contemplate the mind-set of our Lord. The above passage from Hebrews says that Christ endured the cross and despised its shame because He anticipated “the joy that was set before Him.” This we must not lose sight of: though suffering is necessary, it is not an end in and of itself. There is an everlasting joy that awaits us. As C.S. Lewis quipped, “Joy is the serious business of heaven.”

But joy not only awaits us. Because Christ is on His throne, and because we are united to Him; we experience joy now, even in the grip of our brokenness. We close with the sentiments of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. “Joy is not the absence of pain. Joy is the presence of God.

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